Mother & Child

This poetry was inspired by piano music and was premiered at the Stourbridge Christian Centre on 7th October 2013 and performed by Janine Smith with Helena reading. 


John-Paul Gandy aka Sequoia

John-Paul Gandy now known as Sequoia, has performed Helena's music since the 1990's when they met at music college in London. Sequoia is a musical genius and worked as a répétiteur for British opera companies throughout his career, as well as premiering fiendishly difficult piano music for many contemporary music composers, including Joël-François Durand. I am very grateful for his performance and recordings of these concert poetry pieces and hope that you enjoy them for the gift that they are. 


Dilly Keeps Searching for the Perfect Blue

Air Force blue
Cadet blue
Pacific blue
Navy blue
Royal blue?

Cambridge blue
Carolina blue
Duke blue
Oxford blue
Yale blue?

Alice blue
Tiffany blue?

Lapis Lazuli
Turquoise blue?

Denim blue
Dodger blue?

Electric blue
Steel blue?

Blizzard blue
Celestial blue
Midnight blue
Sea blue
Sky blue
Tufts blue?

Blue bell
Violet blue
Lavender blue?!

Dilly, Dilly
Now you tell me!

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry for Maurice Ravel’s Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte


Mount Shuksan Gives Birth in National Park

A powerful crack, a birthing lurch,
And picturesque beauty is quarried.

Womb fissures heave from deep within
North Cascades’ photogenic daughter,
Delivering offspring to Ancient Aurora
Swaddling rocks in new liquid light.

Trickling paths push chips of herself
Off to find their own destinies;
Scree toddlers cling to full boulder skirts
Whilst older brothers tour resonant streams.

Inversion songs resounds through the forests
In tumble and flow, flow and tumble; 
Rough stones smoother with each pitching toss,
Lining glacial creeks jumping with salmon.

One night, Mount Shuksan has a falling dream, 
Plunging miles down Sulphide Creek Canyon,
Seeing her future laid out in aeons
A journey of transformation downstream.

Portions of mightiness ground down to rock flour: 
Carving landscapes; filling lakes; chasing gravity.
She sees the turning, the rushing, the yearning
Will cadence to rest as ocean sand. (Will cadence to rest as ocean sand.)

Diminution complete, exponential descendants,
Mount Shuksan in grains of sand.

© Helena Cavan Concert Poetry 2013 inspired by Godowsky arrangement of Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1


Dancing to a Different Tune

Funny how hearing that street-side tune can happily pull me right back – back to the glistening foreground of the very family-summer-holiday moment, when sun-kissed noses and darkening freckles scrunched up like empty ice lolly wrappers, in one long unanimous “pleeeeaase?!” at sight of a seasonal fair.

Funny how hearing that dancing tune can plant flip-flops right back in hot dust again, where melted candyfloss stains mouths chemical-pink, and fairground rides blare pop, silencing words to lip sync – words that aren’t necessary, as body language tugs and pulls to go with it; to go in relief that there’s enough pocket cash to pay for it all, as all isn’t much, with no queues to speak of nor car parks to trawl.

Funny how 3G and mobile signals are weak there, where our interests belong only to each other; where Mummy and Daddy play getting-lost-in-the-car games, and getting-things-right and getting-there-on-time don’t matter; where homework and exam worries disappear behind silly faces.

Funny how we dance in harmony and dissonance together, fading in and out of tune with each other, as voices rise and fall crashing on beaches nearby, tears disappearing in unrelenting tides of forgiveness and grace and understanding, cleaning preholiday debris away from moulded-sand-castle lives.

Funny how remembering the need to clean – to clean house, clean clothes, clean car, clean dogs can drag me right back from that family-summer-holiday moment into the cyclical list of things to do now, quickly fading that holiday tune.

© Helena Cavan, Piano Poetry 2013, for Rachmaninov’s “Italian Polka”


Just a Moment, Son

I’ve been here before
I know what you’re up to, 
I could guess what you’re going to say.

“Listen, Mum…”
Your breaking voice shouts quietly
Over presumptuous mental chatter.

But it’s not really you I’m listening to, 
I’m hearing dancing shadows –  
Shuffle around lying echoes reflecting
Nothing but my own distractions; 
Turbulence by an internal wind.

Please, turn the tombola again!
Let 12-year-old permutations tumble in silence.
Your life is my prize now, Son, I’m listening.

© Helena Cavan, Concert Poetry 2013 inspired by V Life Cycle from piano music by Marcel Zidani


Chord of Strands

“…a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  - Ecclesiastes 4:12

Yarn Gatherer selected the 20th Century Old-and-New-World strands
Brought together, He spun weak fibres into twisted tensile strength.

Weaver arms laid one tight cord purposefully on top of the other, now turned silver
In magnificent hands, adding a third for sound composition.

Like a musical interval of two lone notes adding a third for a resonant chord,
Is a harmonious family anchored by a cord of three, beautiful as sequencing arpeggios.

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry for Rachmaninov Op. 23 No. 4


Mother Daydreams at the Kitchen Sink

Suds hold her dissociations,
Bubbling departures to other realms
Moments of being out of the moment
Splashing wonder, fantasy and charm.

Softened fingers mechanically repeat
Movements done a thousand times before.
Fluidly pondering, turning realities
Other than delicate dishes
Passing endlessly through her hands.

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry “Traumerei” (dreaming) from Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood) Op. 15 No. 7


Mother Tells The Sparrow and The Worry Bird Story

Once upon a time of day, 
a thought became a sparrow.
It came to mind on a lateral wind
And landed on a table.

The table had been laid with plans,
papers, letters, coffee,
a tray of seeds, a wealth of fruit
Set out just so and carefully.

The sparrow fed nutritiously
And with a wee jump, it lifted; 
Out of the window, away it flew,
Singing a hope-filled song.
A social bird, the thought returned,
with flocks of friends and family,
to gather and roost in peace at dusk
And hatch more creativity.

Once upon a different day,
a thought became a worry,
it flapped about at what the others
Were or were not doing.

Trapped in a house of time beyond
Hitting imaginary limits,
the worry bird zoomed like a Tintin comic
in circles round Captain Haddock’s head.

The Chinese character for crisis
Is “Window of Opportunity,” so, children, 
lose the worry birds, cherish the sparrows,
and songs of hope will fill your head,
songs of hope will fill your head. 

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry inspired by Debussy Children’s Corner, III Serenade for the Doll


Moving on Tiptoe

Quietly moving towards swaddled stillness, 
Baby daughter, I measure steps.
Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well
You’ve lifted my heel from the ground.

This morning, I looked and looked again,
Melting moment of pink candyfloss!
Your twinkle caught me, unanticipated wonder,
With eyelashes grown long overnight.

Oh, that I could take you into myself
And carry your silence again.
Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well
With bated breath, I hold balance.

Will you rise someday and stand en pointe
And carry my silence with you?
Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well
Quietly, moving toward stillness.

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry Brahms Intermezzi Op. 117 No. 1 in E Flat Major


The House of the Why Voices

Why, oh why?

Why me?

Why does he?

Why does she?

Why her? 

Why him?

Why not?

Is THE question really why?

Or is it “Who?”

© Helena Cavan, 2012 Piano Poetry, inspired by Sergei Rachmaninov Op. 23 No. 5


The Wishing-Well-Dream

It always began, the wishing well dream, with the standing girl, alone.
Gilded earth, a shimmering sea—she found herself so happy
to be there looking over ripened meadow grass, mirroring an auriferous sun.
She never questioned her position at the well, nor even why she was there.
A glistening world of long bleached straw, high as her waist, a glittering awe,
like the flaxen hair of a mermaid doll, cutting a blonde swath
through evergreen seas with pinking-shear-edges pasted on turquoise-blue skies.

In the wishing well dream, she never wished, nor even saw behind
the solid stone base, the tiled roof held up by wooden palings.
The metal handle on the solid winch twisted a very fat spindle.
Wound with thick rope, it dangled the traditional Jack and Jill wooden pail.
But it was a real well, with a real hole in the centre,
and water somewhere at the bottom of it;
of this water she knew, without anyone ever speaking.

A honey-dust path etched a curving corridor down the meadow’s centre;
the waving straw, beckoning and friendly, ushered the walking girl along.
She loved the dream, set always in late summer, the midlife season of acceptance;
and she would walk confidently, as if she knew exactly where she was going.

Every time the girl saw the boy, at four, at eight, eleven,
her heart would bloom as if the sun itself had kissed her—a sign from Heaven.
When they met in the dream and she did see all his blind eyes could not,
his hand stretched out and met with hers, to follow in single file.
Chattering children in a timeless place, walking towards the wishing well
like Ronia and Birk, Pippi and horse, one not one without the other.

When they reached the well, she always woke up, a bouquet in her heart:
Mamma, Mamma, I’ve had a dream about a well, a path, and a boy!
Ah, yes, she replied, I had a dream like that when I was a little girl too,
of a man who was bald, with a big hooked nose, holding a dark-haired newborn.
I told my mamma, she went on in wisdom, all about my dream the next morning.
And she said to me it was a husband dream and that I must always pray for him.
Look at your bald father, see his big nose, my precious dark-haired daughter.
You too must pray for this golden young man, and remember the dream you’ve been given.

Years later, returning home from the specialist, her husband tells a story
of dying rods and cones and of eyes being left in a fuzzy, long, dark tunnel.
In that moment, the standing girl’s head spun round in a cloud of star-like gold.
Remembering the dream, she poured him some water, placing it in his outstretched hand.
And she did walk confidently, as if she knew, exactly where they were going.

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry for Debussy Children’s Corner V The Little Shepherd


We Nickname You “Wiggle”

Now, you are in.  
A gift received.

We nickname you “Wiggle,”
Tumbling around and around
Bumping, kicking, pushing boundaries
Exploring the only container you’ve ever known,
A watery, familiar playground.

I marvel at the uncomfortable convenience it is
Containing a roly poly in my belly, nourishing without feeding.  
Soon, my arms will contain, breasts will feed, 
Womb will have pushed you into a bigger playground
where you can happily uncurl headfirst into our world.

I sing an uninterrupted song
Accompanied by your unwrapped voice
Your cry will soon enough pull back my silent bedclothes
cracking sleep open to spill my ingredients,
your increasing necessities requiring.

My heart aches to trade your perfect world for mine
So I can meet your flesh, explore your design,
Feel your weight in my arms, name and introduce you.
And dare I admit, have my body back, as your adventure
Playground becomes heavier by the day.

I want to deliver this gift received.
Now, I want you out!

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry inspired by Debussy Children’s Corner, I Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum


30 March 1998

You cannot stay in my garden

Oh, thorny Blackberry,
No matter how deeply spread
Every time you surface
You will be rooted out.

Hmph, Nettles,
You try to sting me
And forget
I’m wearing gloves.

Pain, I’m not afraid anymore
See, I can hold you
And walk at the same time.
Ah, here’s fear

I cannot move.

© Helena Cavan, 2014 for Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Prelude II:  Allegro giocoso


melting clock world

it began
with an afternoon conversation
between eleven-year-olds
about a painting
of a melting clock
and what would happen
if we lived in a world
where everything was melting
but humans

“we’d drown,” said I

I noticed later,
don’t think of drowning

© Helena Cavan, 2013 Piano Poetry for Clara Schumann Op 21 No 3 Romanza